Shoulding all over myself had become a mental addiction.
I woke up one day covered in it. “I should do this. I shouldn’t do that.”
And my life reeked of dreams left to rot.
Take my path to college for example—I could choose any major, any course of study under the sun.
Looking at the longer-than-I-was-tall list of majors, Creative Writing, Journalism and English called to me, speaking the language of my heart. Writing had always come so naturally; I’d written stories since I was a freckled five. But I quickly determined writing was just too risky and I quietly turned away from my dreams, instead loping down a nicely paved road to certainty.
I could have chosen anything to study, but in my head I didn’t feel safe enough to pursue my creative passion. I chose to go the practical route and enrolled in the Business program. When I told people of this decision, they nodded their approval. “Everything is a business. That’s a smart choice.”
They meant I’d be safe.
Like a scene from a bad mobster movie where the good guy gets subdued by a couple of goons, my dreams were temporarily choked out by the concept of security and the only version of success I knew.
My habit of shoulding myself started there, a derivative of the certainty and the approval I got from others for following a safe path. “Want to be safe? Want to be successful? You should…”
An addict was born.
It was so easy to fall into this pattern. I certainly don’t blame anyone else for my natural progression from safety-seeker to should-addict. It was all me, all a choice (although it often didn’t feel like much of a choice when my perceived safety was at stake). I started listening to the “shoulds” in my head more than my heart.
Frankly, I forgot that my heart even had a voice and I never tried to listen for it. Maybe out of necessity, definitely out of fear, I closed my ears to that intuition. When it occasionally screamed loud enough I couldn’t ignore it, it confused me. I’d be doing my safe thing and suddenly sense a cry from within, calling me to a more creative life. And I’d think, “Where in the world did that come from?! That was weird.” Then I’d go on about my day, doing what I should.
I remember the pressing desire to write after every break up, every emotional battle. I clearly recall being woken up at two in the morning, covered in sweat and fidgeting, with words painting pictures in my mind so vividly—like a Jackson Pollock—that I felt forced out of bed to write them down. I filled journal upon journal, then left them to gather dust in drawers. I wrote stories for fun and I enjoyed writing reports for school. Seriously. Yet, I never once saw these things as calls of my heart nor did I ever identify myself as a writer.
Acknowledging my creative passion would have obligated me to embrace it, maybe even to pursue it. I didn’t even brave the thought.
Somewhere along the way though, I began to see the value in vulnerability. As writing was my weakness—and my strength, it turns out—I started writing more intentionally, finding solace for myself in the lined pages of my worn leather-bound journal. But they were still words that never again saw the light of day after I got them onto a page.
Enter a random Facebook post about Elephant Journal’s Spring 2016 Elephant Academy, an apprenticeship-style program where I’d have a hands-on opportunity to learn about writing, journalism, and social media. My heart screamed again and I’d finally gotten to a point in my life where I was less distracted with busyness, quiet enough to hear it. I signed up despite the financial commitment.
It has been a challenging four months of posting to social media daily, learning, editing and writing. At first, I abhorred the dedication to Facebook and the writing prompts, but the process showed me that my words are there—I just have to uncover and expose them. Have patience in the process.
I will be forever grateful. I’m not sure what other route I could have taken that would have so quickly shoved me off the high diving board and into the depths of my own creativity, my passion.
It was like an expedited version of AA for my soul.
Even so, I’m not healed. I still “should myself” into doing some things that don’t align with my innermost values because of the perceived payout of security. Different as it may be from other types of addiction, it’s like other addictions in that it’s not fixed overnight. But I’m here. You’re reading proof that I’m here.
Now, instead of being so consumed by making sure I’m safe, I allow a little space to ask myself, “Is my life a reflection of who I truly want to be instead of who I feel I should be?”
And right now, my answer is more of a yes than ever before.
It’s really about allowing ourselves to follow our curiosities, those things that call to us from our depths.
When we let go of who we think we should be, we can find who we are.
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Author: Kristen Bagwill
Editor: Sarah Kolkka